English Vs Western Horse Riding: What's The Difference?

English vs Western Horse Riding: What’s the Difference?

English vs Western horse riding, what’s the difference? Which one is harder? Here, we will define each type of horseback riding and discuss the equipment, disciplines, horse type, and gait in each.

Over centuries, English and Western horseback riding has been the most common styles of horseback riding. Some horse riders are prominent in a single style, while others are significant in both of them.

English Horseback Riding

Horses are former working animals, mainly used by England militaries in the colonial era. The English horseback riding style emerged from the disciplines and training. Since then, it has become a significant style in other parts of the world, but with deeper roots in England. 

Horse riders that use English horseback riding have to handle the reins with both hands. The rider must wear elegant and understated attire that entails white gloves and pants, low-heeled boots, and a dark-colored jacket. In addition, the saddles are light and small, with no gears.

Western Horseback Riding

Unlike the English riding style, Western horseback riding emerged long before the colonial era. The colonists then adopted it in North America. The horses were used for farming, transportation, and cattle ranching. The latter was responsible for modern Western riding. 

Western horse riding ensured safety and security during speedy rides. The saddles are heavier and more extensive than English horse riding; therefore, the rider should be fast in mounting. 

Horse riders wear cowboy attire. The outfit is not for looks, as most people think, but for purpose. For instance, the cowboy hat is for preventing sunburns during long rides. 

What Makes the English and Western Horseback Riding Different?

Some riders get comfortable with various horse riding styles without knowing their differences. Here are the main differences in English and Western styles, from equipment to disciples.

1. Equipment

Equipment used in either English or Western horse riding depends on the origins. As mentioned earlier, Western saddles are heavier and more significant than English saddles. The tack and saddles are the significant difference between them so far. Large saddles make comfortable rides, which is suitable for the long trails in western horse riding. 

The reason why the English saddles are light and small is for their hunting purpose. Horses in England were mainly for hunting foxes. Therefore, with all the runs, the saddles had to be comfortable and secure. 

The light saddles allowed the rider to feel the movement of the horse during the chase. These heavy saddles would make the jumping difficult for the horse.

However, each horseback riding style has fitting saddles according to the purpose. 

2. Disciplines

Discipline is a significant factor to consider before getting comfortable on one horseback riding style. Both English and Western horseback riding have unique disciples, and some are in both. Though discipline isn’t a compulsory requirement, a horse rider who understands one outstands in competitions. 

Here are disciplines for Western and English horseback riding:

Western Riding

Popular disciplines in the Western riding include:


This trend emerged from working cattle. It’s all about the pattern movements from both the horse and its rider, usually defined as gallop or lope. Reining should portray easy horse riding; therefore, accuracy is vital to succeeding in this discipline. 

For riders to be good in reining discipline, they should be brave in riding at high speeds, accurate in movement patterns, and maintain harmony with their horses. As for the horses, they should be good at slowing and taking fast rides while maintaining the gait, changing flying leads, making strong roll-backs, rein-backs, spins, and sliding stops. 

Western Trail Riding

Trail riding entails overcoming obstacles like gates, bridges, and logs which encourages teamwork between the horse and the rider while overcoming them. 

Riders in western trail riding should have good strategies in overcoming obstacles, pattern memories, and be precise in riding. The horses should have slow lopes and jogs, the ability to move in any direction like shoulders, backward, and haunches movements upon command.

Barrel Racing

Barrel racing is usually short but enjoyable. It entails the horse going through the barrel and back. Suitable riders should be fast, remain balanced during sharp turns, and avoid burdening the horse by saddling lightly. The horses should also be fast, quick in understanding and learning the patterns, and change leads when required.


Cutting originated from cattle ranching. The rider used the horse to separate cows that needed an inspection. In the cutting race, the horse shows how good it keeps an isolated cow from joining the herd. The rider usually has 150 seconds to separate two cows. 

Suitable riders should be good at maintaining balance and have good relationships with the horse. A horse that knows its rider has faith in it usually performs better. Suitable horses should be cow intuitive and willing to work. 

Team Penning

This discipline usually takes one minute. It entails a team with three partners, a rider, and a horse. Each team should pen in the assigned cow. 

Suitable riders should be good in multitasking, moving the hindquarters and shoulders of their horse, and adrenaline lovers. Horses should be fast in responding to aids, confident when handling cattle, and good in auto turn, stop and start.

Working Cow Horse

The working cow horse discipline entails a cow, a horse, and its rider. Horses appear in three portions; fence work, cutting, and reining pattern. 

Riders in this discipline must be steady and fast, accurate, and maintain a lighter saddle. The horses should be good at slowing down upon command and having cow instinct in accurate gallops and slopes.

Pole Bending

Pole bending entails the rider and horse overcoming six poles and back. This discipline tests the speed of both the rider and the horse. 

The rider must be fast, remain intact with the horse even in quick turns, and be good in adrenaline. Horses should be good listeners, good at sprinting upon command and changing leads. 

English Riding

English riding disciplines have taken place for years. Any beginner who wants to major in English riding should know these major English disciplines:


Dressage, also called horse ballet, is an elegant discipline that tests the horse’s obedience, training, and response. The name is a French vocabulary that means training. A horse showcases its training and communication level. The more levels the horse passes, the higher the difficulty.

The Federation Equestre Internationale is yet to recognize dressage as one of the Olympic sports.


Eventing entails dressage, show jumping, and country jumping. Its commonly known as three-day eventing since it takes three days to complete. Each day has a different competition. The final results determine the winner.

This discipline tests the horse’s response, cross-country jumping, speed, and endurance level. The military has now embraced this discipline to test the military horses on the various abilities. 


Showjumping entails horses that are good at jumping higher levels even when timed. The winner is usually a horse that jumps all the fences with no mistakes like refusing to jump or knocking the obstacles. Riders should be fast and the horses cooperative; otherwise, it will lead to elimination.

Hunt Seat

Hunt seat entails flat works and jumping. It involves the rider moving forward while riding to distribute the weight evenly on the horse’s withers. 

This discipline has three categories; jumpers which test the jumping label of a horse with no faults, equitation which tests the relation and appearance of both the rider and the horse and shows hunters, which test the presentation, turnout, and manners of the rider and the horse. 

3. Horse Type

Knowing the suitable horse breed for each style can be challenging to understand Western and Eastern riding and the tools required. Not all horses can perform well in both riding styles. Here are the best horse breeds for each riding style:

Western Riding

American Quarter Horse: Quarterhorse appears in most Western riding competitions. They have strong haunches, a deep chest, and a muscular build. Western competitors are usually wild, and Quarter horses have the perfect temperament for such.

  • The Appaloosa – Like the Quarter horse, this horse breed has a good build for Western sports, including the strong hooves.
  • American Paint Horse – Most Paint Horses originate from the Thoroughbreds and the Quarter horse. Therefore, they have fast trail mounts.
  • Tennessee Walking Horse – This breed is suitable for riders with back problems. The Tennessee Walking Horse has smooth gaits that make the rides comfortable. You can maintain their strides and gaits with a trail saddle. 
  • Percheron – Percheron is a calm, fast, and agile draft horse, traits from the Arabians. They are also capable of long trails and slow lopes. Since they are draft horses, they have small bodies that are good at overcoming blocked trails. 
  • Mustangs – Mustang is wild horses common in America. Due to their harsh lifestyle, Mustangs are hardy horses with high endurance, hence perfect for rough Western trails.

English Riding

Here are the best horse breeds for English riding:

  • Shetland – These horses have small but muscular bodiesShowjumping. They are hardy animals hence perfect for English rides. Any novice rider can mount on them, including kids. 
  • Connemara – Connemara horses are hardy, surefooted, and suitable jumpers, traits that make them fit for English riding. 
  • Welsh Cob – Though this breed is believed to be ponies, they come in various sizes. They also have a muscular build. 
  • Cleveland Bay – They are strong horses that appear primarily in royal events. They are also used for hunting and sports competition. 
  • Clydesdale – Clydesdale horses are muscular and tall with heavy bodies. That’s why they are good at English riding.

4. Gait

Gait is necessary for both English and Western Horse Riding. Most of them are similar; they include:

  • Walk – every horse has to walk in both riding styles; there is no training for that. 
  • Jog – it is the smoothest gait, but not a walk. It is common in western riding.
  • The trot – is similar to the jog gait but can be fast enough to cause imbalances for the rider. The trot is usually seen in English riding. 
  • Western Lope and Eastern Canter – they are both faster gaits with a smooth and relaxed pace.

Final Verdict

Western and English riding differ in tools used, disciplines, horse types, and gaits. However, there is no better style than the other. It all depends on your preference, especially if all you want is to ride a horse. If your interest is in jumping and dressage, then go for the English horse riding.